Self-Directed Learning Development in PBL Engineering Students

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PBL is recognized as a model for learner-centered education. A goal of PBL is the performance of self-directed learning by the students during the solution of the problem. A recognized outcome of engineering undergraduate programs is the development of knowledge and skills necessary for the performance of lifelong learning; in other words, the development of self-directed learning abilities. This article explores the development of self-directed learning abilities by engineering students in a PBL curriculum. It aims to characterize how graduates understand and utilize self-directed learning at the juncture where they will be entering engineering practice. 27 participants were interviewed. All were at the end of their undergraduate PBL curriculum in the Iron Range Engineering program (Minnesota, U.S.). Open-ended interviews were conducted to explore the utilization of learning elements by the participants in their acquisition of technical knowledge.Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed through multiple readings and the use of NVivo. Elements of self-directed learning were identified using the words and descriptions of the participants. Using their descriptions of interactions of the elements, a composite model of self-directed learning was developed. Learning theory from Illeris and the American Psychological Association are used to underpin the composite model. The outcome of the study is the insight into how PBL provides implicit development of self-directed learning abilities. This knowledge has potential value to curriculum decision makers considering the implementation of PBL, as well as to curriculum designers who would develop such curricula. The model itself has the potential for explicit instruction of self-directed learning.


Integrated Engineering

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The International Journal of Engineering Education